Bob Dylan’s cat just ate my dog, Ma

By Larry Fyffe

In his analysis of Bob Dylan songs ‘Long And Wasted Years’ , Kees de Graaf would have it that the singer/songwriter doesn’t really consider life wasted because, gee, by golly, peace and happiness will be found after a person drops dead; Heaven awaits for those who play their cards right.

But the song ‘Long And Wasted Years’ can also be interpreted so that the narrator in the song concludes that God’s been a way too long in implementing His Plan to save His faithful followers, and those who think He’s just all right are wasting their time.

In a nutshell, the narrator questions the sunburnt Rose of Sharon, who’s a figurative  believer in God’s promise that He’ll soon deliver His “first born son”, the people of the land of Israel, from harm:

What are you doing out there in the sun anyway?

(Bob Dylan: Long And Wasted Years)

Duty-bound Rosie says she’s quite willing to wait as long as it takes:

Look upon me, because I am black
Because the sun hath looked upon me
My mother's children were angry with me
They made me the keeper of the vineyards
But mine own vineyard have I not kept
Tell me, O thou whom my soul loveth
Where thou feedest
Where thou makest the flock rest at noon

(Song Of Solomon 1: 6,7)

Whatever Bob Dylan’s personal spiritual beliefs are, we know not. But we do know that he’s an artist – one of few words – whose rebels against established authority rather than accepting dogmatic impositions outright. His song lyrics often  burlesque – plays on words like ‘stoned’, for example. Sometimes the listener’s not even sure if he’s being serious or not!

Indeed, writing page after page after… about a camparativey short song to supposedly pin down Dylan as a true-believing religious conformist is ‘long and wasted’ time. Dylan’s  lyrics and music, however, do reveal that he becomes bored by focusing his artistic creativity solely on the style of “protest” folksongs; he goes ‘electric’. Likewise, his lyrics and music also change when he becomes disgruntled with a religious organization for which he’s written songs that are quite in tune with its evangelistic  message: ’tis said that the Old Testament foretells the future – the coming establishment of Christianity as the one and only true religion.

But the song lyrics of ‘Pay In Blood’ by no means have to be viewed as those of an everlasting believer in the dogmatic teachings of the Vineyard movement. Kees de Graaf insists that the lines of the song show Dylan to be so:

“….in particular in this song, we see some of the the violent struggle, abundantly present in the Old Testament where the resistance against the promised road, which will ultimately lead to the promised Savior, the Messiah ~Yeshua/Jesus ~, is so strong and violent that there is no alternative left but to combat this resistance with equally violent weapons” (Kees de Graaf: Pay In Blood)

An alternate interpretaion is that the singer/songwriter, having had already poked fun at the Old Testament story about Abraham being ordered to kill his son, mocks the Vineyarders for their rather anti-Judaic, and literalistic interpretations of both the Old and New Testaments.

The unquestioning devotion of Rosie the Sunburnt, revised by the Vineyarders, and orthodox Christians alike (she’s now bound to Jesus) is referenced again by the creator of that song whose narrator declares, black humour abounding, that no true Jewish Messiah would be permitted by God to pay in blood, at least not in his own blood:

Well, I'm grinding my out my life, steady and sure
Nothing more wretched than I must endure
I'm drenched in the light that shines from the sun
I could stone you to death for the wrongs that you've done ....
I'll pay in blood but not my own

(Bob Dylan: Pay In Blood)

In spite of the song presented below that blames political and social authorities , de Graaf is sure that Bob Dylan rejects out-of-hand, any down-to-earth, sociological explanations for group or individual anti-social behaviour:

The point that he wants to make is that no man or woman on this earth .....
has the power within himself or herself to rise above the wicked condition
of the human condition that we are all in

(Kees de Graaf: Pay In Blood)

But there’s an alterative viewpoint as to why this may appear to be the case:

They said, 'Listen boy, you're just a pup
They sent him to napalm health spa to shape up
They gave him dope to smoke, drinks, and pills
A jeep to drive, blood to spill
They said, 'Congratulations, you got what it takes'
They sent him back into the rat race without any brakes
He was a clean-cut kid
But they made a killer out of him

(Bob Dylan: Clean- Cut Kid)

De Graaf is a true believer in the concept of ‘original sin.’ There be lots of Dylan’s song lyrics, many of them full of humorous irony, that indicate that the singer/songwriter is not now, nor ever was a believer in ‘original sin’.

What else is here?

An index to our latest posts arranged by themes and subjects on the home page.  You can also see details of our main sections on this site at the top of this page under the picture.

There is an alphabetic index to the 550+ Dylan compositions reviewed on the site which you will find it here.  There are also 500+ other articles on different issues relating to Dylan.  The other subject areas are also shown at the top under the picture.

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And please do note   The Bob Dylan Project, which lists every Dylan song in alphabetical order, and has links to licensed recordings and performances by Dylan and by other artists, is starting to link back to our reviews.



  1. You write: “De Graaf is a true believer in the concept of ‘original sin.’ There be lots of Dylan’s song lyrics, many of them full of humorous irony, that indicate that the singer/songwriter is not now, nor ever was a believer in ‘original sin’”. That is an interesting remark from Mr Fyffe and raises the question: how well does Mr Fyffe know Dylan’s lyrics? Take a look at the lyrics of “Pressing On”. Dylan writes: “Adam given the devil reign. Because HE sinned I got no choice, it run in my vein”. This statement from Dylan emphasizes exactly what original sin is all about. So Mr Fyffe, I challenge you to come up with a statement from Dylan which proves the opposite.

  2. Irony abounds –

    ‘ to do anything they wish to do but die’ (Gates of Eden) – ie, the religious authorities won’t let people die without hounding the dead about ‘original’ sin even in their grave

    ‘I got no choice’ (Pressing On) – he’s merely following God’s divine plan,
    ie, pressing on with sinning since he, like Adam, is already defined as committing ‘original’sin’, as being under the control of the Devil

    The Jewish religion does not have the doctrine of ‘original sin’

  3. Augustine came up with the dogma idea quite some time after the Bible was written,…still it’s interpreted in various ways, ie as the reason why humans are mortal, rather than considered collectively depraved, for example

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